Thursday, May 11, 2023

A eulogy for Heather Armstrong

Heather Armstrong, the "queen of the mommy bloggers" and the author of, is dead from an apparent suicide after a relapse in her sobriety. She was only 47 years old. She leaves behind two children and a legacy as one of the most important social media influencers ever.

In February 2002, Heather became the first person of which I'm aware to be fired for something she wrote online. One of her co-workers discovered that Heather was the author of an anonymous blog that, in part, discussed her workplace and her co-workers. Most of what she wrote was unflattering. That person anonymously reported Heather to their HR department. She was then fired because of some of the things she had written.

She then took to her blog and asked the following three questions:

1.) Should I lose my job over something I have written on my personal website, especially if I have made sure not to mention specific places, persons, or events by name?

2.) At what point does my personal website, regardless of what I've published on the site, affect my professional life?

3.) What recourse do I have?

Heather Armstrong was a social media visionary. She was not just one of the first bloggers to go viral. She was also the first person to significantly discuss the impact between personal social media posts and the workplace. Those three questions she asked more than 20 years ago(!) are so much more important today as they were then because there are so much more of us on social media. And they are questions with which employers and their employees continue to struggle.

As for the answers to Heather's prescient questions: (1) it depends on what you wrote, and it's more probable the more what you write can cast your employer in a poor or negative light; (2) always; and (3) none, unless you’re writing about the terms and conditions of your work, in which case the National Labor Relations Board may have something to say about it.

Let's all take a moment to remember Heather Armstrong. She was an advocate for moms and for those struggling with their mental health and addiction. Her most lasting influence, however, might be in the area of social media and workplace privacy, and it's for that reason that I choose to celebrate her and her memory.

* Image via Ivonnae, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons